published Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Region Digest: Valentine's Day triple slayings conviction dismissed

KNOXVILLE

1999 conviction dismissed

The Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee has dismissed a conviction for especially aggravated robbery against one of the defendants in the February 1999 Valentine's Day triple slayings in a Cleveland, Tenn., townhouse.

Maurice Johnson was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of O.J. Blair, Cayci Higgins and Dawn Rogers. Those convictions stand.

The appeals court found the evidence was not sufficient to support the robbery conviction, because "we cannot conclude that the robbery progressed beyond an attempt."

It found the evidence was sufficient to support a conviction for the lesser included offense of attempted especially aggravated robbery, but prosecution of that offense would be barred under the statute of limitations.

NASHVILLE

Putnam GOP site vandalized

The chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party called the vandalism of the Putnam County GOP headquarters "deplorable."

Authorities say vandals spray painted a Hitler-style mustache on the face of a Ronald Reagan mural on the side of the headquarters in Cookeville on Monday. The mural is valued at $5,000.

GOP chairman Chris Devaney said the act is unacceptable and "does nothing but draw lines in the sand that do not need to be drawn. The Republican Party will not tolerate the deplorable actions of a few to distract us from our goal of a fiscally responsible government and the creation of good-paying jobs for all Americans."

A Cookeville detective told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the vandalism case still is under investigation.

FOLKSTON, Ga.

Okefenokee fire still smoldering

Wildfire continues to smolder in the Okefenokee Swamp more than three months after lightning sparked the vast blaze.

Fire officials say the Honey Prairie fire, which started April 30, has barely grown since it surpassed 300,000 acres a month ago. It has now burned a total of 303,172 acres -- or about 473 square miles -- mostly inside the boundaries of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

Refuge manager Curt McCasland says summer thunderstorms have been too sporadic to put the fire out. Firefighters believe it's now burning into the dry peat beds of the swamp, which have plenty of fuel for the fire to keep smoldering beneath the ground.

Officials say only prolonged, soaking rain will extinguish the blaze.

STONE MOUNTAIN, Ga.

Sheriff takes youth homes role

Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson recently was sworn in as vice president of the Georgia Sheriffs' Youth Homes during the Georgia Sheriffs' Summer Training Conference at Stone Mountain.

The sheriffs operate five residential campuses serving more than 120 boys and girls. Pickens County Sheriff Donnie Craig is the group's secretary/treasurer.

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